O’Neill may play Paddy McCourt for Northern Ireland

Paddy McCourt: Talented player. Picture: Getty
Paddy McCourt: Talented player. Picture: Getty
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Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill admits he may be ready to let “unique” Paddy McCourt loose on the Faroe 
Islands again.

Former Celtic winger McCourt has not played a competitive fixture for his country since a cameo from the bench against Israel last March and has only made one friendly appearance since then.

The fan favourite was not involved in the summer tour of South America and not considered for last month’s opening Euro 2016 qualifier in Hungary having only recently signed for Brighton.

The feeling remains that O’Neill is a McCourt sceptic, willing to dispense with the winger’s superb dribbling skills in favour of more disciplined performers.

But with the Faroes likely to be engaged in all-out defence at Windsor Park on Saturday, he is prepared to take the gamble.

McCourt’s standout performance in a Northern Ireland shirt came when he tortured the islanders in a Euro 2012 qualifier at Belfast, scoring two wonderful goals and laying on another in a 4-0 win.

Remarkably he has made just six more appearances in the three years since.

“Paddy’s previous against them has to come into the thinking given the nature of the game we’re expecting,” said O’Neill.

“The Faroes will try to be hard to break down and a lot of strong teams haven’t found it easy against them recently. Paddy has the ability to unlock the door and he gives us 
different options.

“He’s unique in terms of what he brings to our squad.

“He hasn’t played a lot of minutes at Brighton but we’ve watched him and it’s a question of what we can get out of him.”

A lack of consistent playing time at club level has too often scuppered McCourt’s international ambitions, with the Celtic squad ultimately proving too tough to crack and Barnsley’s relegation scrap last year hardly the best stage for his skills.

Brighton could yet prove a more natural home and O’Neill hopes that is the case.

“Paddy still has loads to offer and he has a really good opportunity at a very good club, let’s hope he can take it,” he said.

“His club situation hasn’t always been great but the signs are he’s had a good start this season – we had someone at the cup game against Burton and he did well.

“He’s a talented player and whether we start him or use him from the bench it’s always 
exciting to have him around.”